By Norm Cannada

The Journal

SENECA — Early this morning, nearly 500 runners and walkers were set to gather at the Shaver Recreational Complex for the annual Race for the Green, including about 140 half-marathon runners, along with roughly 330 people taking part in a 5K event.

Paul and Candy Haigh dance during a Jazz on the Alley event in Seneca in 2017. The city has plans to start this year’s Jazz events on June 4 with social distancing guidelines in effect. (File)

The event was postponed in March when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down businesses, schools and sports around the globe.

And while the pandemic isn’t over, officials have been cleared to begin some events with social distancing, masks and other procedures and protections designed to keep people safe while providing a chance to enjoy an event as a community — something even more important now after the April 13 tornado that devastated parts of the city.

“The race is totally different this year,” Seneca events coordinator Riley Johnson said Friday just before runners were showing up outside 313 Café to pick up their bags, T-shirts, bibs and other items for the race. “We’re using a lot of COVID-19 protocol where we’re keeping people apart.”

The runners were set to line up with 10 people on each line, 6 feet apart, wearing masks at least for the beginning and end of the race. Johnson said a new group of 10 runners was to be released every 10 to 15 seconds. There were to be no water stations on the course, but families could have water on the course for a family member.

“We’re doing as much as we can,” Johnson said.

The events are the beginning of an effort to restart events in Seneca over the next several months. Jazz on the Alley will begin running on Thursdays from 7-9 p.m. beginning on June 4, but the stage will be moved to the intersection of Ram Cat Alley and Townville Street to allow tables to be spread out more for social distancing.

Cruzin’ on Main is set to start on June 6, with events set for the first Saturday every month until the fall.

“Our hope is that we can start getting back to our normal processes in June,” Seneca city administrator Scott Moulder said. “One of the things we’re most excited about is starting Jazz on the Alley on June 4. I think that this community, after COVID and the tornado, is just begging to do something besides sit around and be fearful. We just hope that Jazz and trying to start our events back up, like the race this weekend, will help them recover.”

Moulder said he hopes to further open City Hall next month with “some type of social distancing,” but he added the adjustments have not been easy. While some youth sports can now be played in South Carolina, the requirements to play safely made Seneca officials decide it couldn’t happen this year.

“It’s much more difficult,” Moulder said. “We were excited to hear that the officials were contemplating opening up youth sports again, especially baseball, for the remainder of this season. But the restrictions that they’re putting on the cities and other management organizations are so overbearing and so difficult that it’s going to make it impossible to actually provide the sport for those kids.”

Johnson said the city is working to get back slowly, learning new ways to be safe and adjusting to changes as the conditions require it. The city is going ahead with plans for the annual fireworks display on July 4, with the Swingin’ Medallions scheduled to perform, and will adjust to whatever the requirements, if any, are at that time. There is a plan to get a new date for SenecaFest, which was postponed from this weekend.

“I think that’s the way most people are learning to adapt,” Johnson said. “Maybe this will be a great memory or a teaching tool. Maybe we’ll learn from it and do some things differently in the years to come. You learn something from every obstacle.”

ncannada@upstatetoday.com | (864) 973-6680